21 Kefir Grains Questions and Answers
Kefir grains furnish us with probiotics that improve digestion, modulate the immune system and aid weight loss. They also generate questions and finding the right answers will enable us to benefit more from them. In this article, you will find 20 common, yet vital questions regarding kefir grains and their answers.
Understanding the Grains Themselves
Before we consider how to store kefir grains, how to know if they have been contaminated and even where to buy them, let’s take a closer look at the grains themselves.
Are they literally grains?
Kefir grains have nothing to do with wheat or rye. Instead, they are formed by beneficial bacteria, yeasts and fungi that gather around a polysaccharide matrix. One bacterium named Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens produces an exopolysaccharide that gives it a soft, protective coating.
Where do kefir grains come from?
Herdsman who fed their sheep and goats on the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains were among the first to ferment kefir, but the exact origin of the grains remains a mystery. One plausible theory is that the herdsman would add a small piece of sheep’s intestine to their fresh milk to inoculate it with probiotics that would ferment and preserve it. It is possible that as they fermented consecutive batches the probiotics clumped together forming gelatinous grains.
How to use grains?
The grains come in two varieties: milk grains and water grains. Milk grains can be grown in cow and goat milk. Organic whole milks work the best, but make sure that you buy them from a reputable seller. Milk grains can also ferment lactose-free coconut or soy milk. Water grains thrive on sugar and can be cultivated in water, coconut water and fruit juices to make vegan options. To make kefir, place the active grains into an appropriate liquid and allow them to ferment for approximately 24 hours. The kefir grains can then be strained out with care and used for the next batch.
Is it possible to make from scratch?
No. It is not possible to make these probiotic rich grains at home and it is even difficult to make them in a laboratory.
How to grow kefir grains?
Existing grains can be encouraged to reproduce by giving them the right environment. This includes maintaining a constant temperature, changing their growth medium frequently and shaking them occasionally during fermentation to bring fresh nutrients to the surface of the grains. Giving grains a small amount of powdered prebiotics can also keep them growing and reproducing at a healthy rate.
How are milk and water grains different?
Milk grains are the mother of water grains. Some of the probiotics within the milk grain must have lactose to survive, while others can also feed off of sugar. Water grains are milk grains that have been acclimated to sugar water. The lactose-dependent probiotics in them have died off and their place has been taken by those that thrive on sugar.
Tips for Storing Kefir Grains
Whether they double in size within a week or over a period of months, you are going to be faced with the need to store them. Here are some tips to help you store them safely.
How to store kefir grains?
Kefir Probiotics are sensitive to compounds in their environment. Plastic and metal containers allow trace amounts of metal, chemicals and even harmful microbes to seep into their contents, so it is best to store kefir in glass or ceramic. Freezer bags can be used to store kefir grains, but make sure the bags are brand new and labeled “BPA Free” to decrease the risk of contamination.
What should I do with the excess?
Occasionally grains die, so it is a good idea to store some extra grains to replace them with. Surplus grains can also be eaten or shared with friends.
How to dry Kefir Grains?
First, rinse well with filtered water and then spread them out on paper towels. Allow them to air dry for 5-7 days or until they are dry and firm to the touch. After they are dried, bury them in dry milk powder to protect them from bumps and freezer burn. Dried grains keep well in the refrigerator for 6 months or for up to a year in the freezer.
How to prepare and freeze kefir grains?
As we saw above, dried grains can be covered in milk powder and frozen safely for up to one year, but they can also be frozen wet. Wet grains destined for the freezer should be buried in milk powder or covered in milk. They should be frozen for no longer than 6 months, because wet grains begin losing their probiotics sooner than dry ones.
How long do water and milk kefir grains survive outside of their water or milk?
Both water and milk grains can survive for hours outside of their liquid environment. As the grains dehydrate, however, the probiotics within them become dormant and it may take 2 or 3 batches of fermentation to refresh them.
Dealing with Unhealthy and Contaminated
Kefir grains are living organisms and sometimes they become unhealthy or even die. Below you will find information that will help you deal with failing grains.
How to know if kefir grains are dead?
Probiotics trigger biochemical processes that give milk kefir its creamy consistency, sour smell and whey, as well as make water kefir slightly fizzy, tangy and cloudy. If your milk or water does not manifest these signs of fermentation, the grains are dead and it is time to replace them.
How to know if grains are contaminated?
Healthy grains range in color from white to yellow. Occasionally harmful microbes from the environment overpower the kefir probiotics and begin their own colonies which may appear pink, orange, black and various shades of grey. When this happens, it is important to discard the drink and grains.
Contamination, does it happen a lot?
No. The healthy microbes in kefir usually grow fast enough to prevent any harmful bacteria or yeasts from taking root. To decrease the risk of contamination, consider wiping the outside of your jar with apple vinegar.
What is the risk to your health if you drink kefir made with contaminated grains?
It is dangerous to consume contaminated kefir. The harmful microbes in it can cause abdominal cramping, diarrhea, vomiting, headaches and general weakness, as well as sepsis in severe cases.
Making Kefir with a Powdered Starter
Years ago the only way to grow kefir was with existing grains. Today we also have the option of using an envelope of kefir starter. Keep reading to find information that will help you choose between grains or powdered starter.
How do natural grains compare to a starter kit?
Kefir grains and powdered starters both contain healthy probiotics that grow and reproduce in various types of milk and sugar water. Both cultures require about 24 hours to ferment and will improve your overall health if consumed regularly.
How do grains and kefir starter differ?
Kefir grains contain about 30 different strains of beneficial bacteria, along with more than 10 strains of healthy yeasts and fungi. Kefir starters contain fewer strains of bacteria and sometimes no yeast and fungi. Another major difference is that grains can grow for years, whereas kefir made from starters becomes weak after a few batches and requires a fresh dose of starter.
What are the Benefits of Kefir Starter?
First of all, they allow you to make kefir without the work of caring for the grains. Secondly, you know exactly which probiotics are in your batch, and lastly, starter kits often undergo laboratory testing to guarantee that there are no pathogens contaminating them.
Check out our article on the Benefits of Kefir.
What about Eating Kefir Grains
As our freezers becomes full of stored grains and we run out of friends to share them with, we often wonder if eating the excess grains would be beneficial. If you have reached this stage, here are some answers to your questions:
- Can you eat kefir grains? Yes! They feel rubbery and have a slightly sour taste.
- Are there any benefits to eating grains vs. drinking kefir? The only benefit is that the grains have a concentrated amount of the probiotics.
- Are there any negative aspects to eating the grains? No, kefir grains cause no unpleasant side effects. They can be mixed into homemade granola, sprinkled on top of berries for a whole food treat or simply eaten plain.
Where to Buy Kefir Grains
If you are wondering where to acquire grains, this last section is for you. The most popular way to get them is from a friend, but if that isn’t an option, you can buy kefir grains at health food stores or a farmers’ market near you. You can also buy them from online stores that specialize in cultures or Amazon. The nice thing about Amazon is that it hosts a variety of people selling both raw and dehydrated grains.
No matter where you get your grains from, growing kefir involves a learning curve. I hope this article will help you navigate that curve and put you on the path towards cultivating the best kefir grains and maintaining a healthier body.